Tag Archives: University scientists

RESEARCH GRANTS CAUSE BOTH JOY AND DESPAIR FOR UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS! 

 

The Yin and Yang of Research Grants in 2016! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
The Yin and Yang of Research Grants in 2016!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

The public often forgets that scientists are people, too!  Your neighbor that you never say more than a “hello” to might even be a scientist!  Most readers have no idea what emotions arise in professional scientists working on research at modern universities.  So that you will learn more about scientists as people, this article looks at the strong emotions commonly caused by the research grant system.

Introduction! 

Officially, research grants pay for all the many different expenses of conducting experiments, and thus provide the essential financial sponsorship all scientists at universities need to obtain in order to (1) conduct research, and (2) keep their employment.  Without a grant, university scientists lose their laboratory, have their salary lowered, reduce their status, and are not promoted.  Research grants now are the difference between life and death for a faculty scientist’s career!  When scientists at universities cannot renew their research grant(s), this typically causes a career crisis that can necessitate either a major shift in job activities (e.g., into full-time teaching and/or administration) or relocation to a new employment.  Getting and maintaining research grants is the very largest goal for any faculty scientist; that target now far overshadows making breakthrough discoveries, publishing in the very best journals, and receiving a prize for meritorious teaching.

Feeling the rewards and problems of funding science with research grants! 

Receipt of official notice that a research grant application will be funded causes great joy and excitement for any faculty scientist.  All of a sudden, the 6-24 months of planning, writing, and revising the proposal seem worthwhile, rather than being burdensome and wearying!  Graduate students and research technicians now can be kept employed in the lab, and there will be time to finish some long experiment!  Sometimes a new piece of research equipment can be purchased, or a postdoctoral fellow can be added to the laboratory team!  A big celebration of this bountiful feast of happiness and satisfaction clearly is in order!

However, research grants are a double-edged sword for university scientists!  Very difficult problems frequently accompany research grant awards and these can cause great distress and anguish.  A few weeks or months after receiving a new grant, the euphoria wears off and the same scientist again becomes aware of the big problems all faculty scientists face with time and money.  After the initial joy, the second emotion to arise is fear!  Fear of what?  Fear of the fact that the clock is always ticking, and fear of the future!  While one is busy hiring and training a new technician, interviewing candidates for an open postdoctoral position, composing a manuscript, dealing with installation of a large new piece of research equipment, teaching in a class with 3 or 300 students, and, doing bench work in the lab, the clock always is counting down the remaining time before important deadlines occur (e.g., sending an annual report to the granting agency, the remaining time left in year-02, getting a large article published, submitting an application for renewal of the current grant at the best time, completing an application for a new (additional) grant now rather than later, etc.).

With regard to the time problem, each grant demands forms to be filled out, reports to be submitted, hours to be scheduled away from the lab, and deadlines to be met.  New lab employees need to be evaluated and then trained.  In addition to time needed for paperwork, administration, bench work in the lab, lab meetings, office hours for class students, and teaching work, the main time demand for all faculty scientists today is to submit more and more applications so multiple research grants can be obtained; the enormous pressures generated by this time crunch will have strong effects upon any human.  For most university scientists, acquiring multiple grants can result in such a large time shortage that there no longer is so much fun with personally working at their research; that stimulates the emotions of despair and depression!

Receipt of another research grant theoretically should solve the money problem for any university scientist.  Instead, the new dollars often have the opposite effect!  The university might suddenly raise the official salary levels for all employed technicians or graduate students; since the required increase was not included in the proposed budget, this obligation must be paid by those funds awarded for research supplies.  Buying a new research instrument might require changing the electricity supplies and remodeling to create a surrounding barrier zone; the grantee must pay for all that work, meaning more rebudgeting.  How then will new supply orders be paid for?

Feasting can be followed by a famine! 

Many applications for a research grant are not funded or only partially funded.  Sooner or later, even famous university scientists fail to have their research grant renewed.  Faculty scientists losing a research grant typically try very hard to get funded again via a revised application or a new application for a different project.  All science faculty losing their single research grant are facing the kiss of death, where they can lose everything; the unlucky scientist enters a period of true famine. That university scientist then finally becomes very aware that they only have rented their laboratory space, that their research accomplishments mean little to their university, and that their employer really hired them only to get their grant money (i.e., more profits!).  Trying to alternate back and forth between the conditions of feast and famine is an  emotional situation which is quite sufficient to cause premature aging!  Unfunded, but previously funded, faculty now are labelled as being “worthless” by their academic employer; feelings of anger, tearful sorrow, and dissatisfaction certainly flourish.  Emotions with feast-or-famine undergo a roller coaster ride!

Concluding discussion! 

Problematic features of the current research grant system for supporting scientific research at universities very clearly have emotional consequences.  Both happiness, sorrow, disgust, and endless worrying commonly are produced.  Having 2 or even 3 research grants can simply magnify the same emotions.  Living and working under the condition of feast-or-famine wears academic scientists down and does not encourage the progress of science.

Science has good involvements with business and commerce, but basic research itself is not supposed to be a business!  Research grants or other financial support are necessary to pay for all the expenses of conducting experiments, but obtaining more and more of that money is not the true goal of scientists!  For modern universities, science is a business, and faculty scientists are just a terrific means to increase their profits!

There are some other ways besides grants to pay for research expenses (see: “Is More Money for Science Really Needed? Part II” , and, “Basic Versus Applied Science: Are There Alternatives to Funding Basic Research by Grants?” ).  It seems to me that new mechanisms for financing science and research at universities in the United States now are badly needed in order to stop the destructive problems caused by the current system (see:  “Could Science and Research Now be Dying?” ).

 

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SHOULD RESEARCH SCIENTISTS BE UNIONIZED?

 

Should Research Scientists be Unionized?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Should Research Scientists be Unionized?    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Unions traditionally are for workers in factories, offices, or the trades (i.e., trade unions), but more recently also are active in many other situations where employees feel they need protection from their employer.  Most scientists working in universities or industrial research and development (R&D) centers presently are not unionized.  However, some university science teachers, workers in science-related jobs, and hospital staff do become unionized.  In recent times, many employers have set up grievance mechanisms in order to try to preclude the need to establish unions as a protection against perceieved or actual workplace abuses.  This essay takes a closer look at the present claims for research scientists to become unionized.

Background. 

Many scientists working as professional researchers in universities now have major job problems with (1) time management, (2) obtaining sufficient money from governmental grants to support their research, and, (3) demands for dishonesty (see: “Introduction to Cheating and Corruption in Science” ).  These very general problems now cause much job dissatisfaction for university scientists (see:  “Why are University Scientists Increasingly Upset with their Job?  Part I” ).  All 3 large practical problems are due to misguided policies and practices with:  (1) modern universities, (2) the current research grant system, and (3) the commercialization of science (see: “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?” ). 

For faculty scientists at universities and medical schools, the research time problem bothers everyone greatly, but probably is not yet severe enough to support union-based strikes or job actions.  Different levels of the research money problem are faced by everyone doing laboratory research within universities; although dissatisfaction with this situation is very widespread, official complaints are strongly prevented simply because all grantees want to continue receiving research grant support throughout their careers (i.e., do not bite the hand that feeds you!).  The corruption problem in modern science is ignored by many scientists because they are too busy worrying about their time and money problems, and do not wish to become  involved with investigations and charges that do not directly involve them personally.  Hence, the very largest job problems for scientists in universities do not readily encourage unionization and union-based protests. 

For scientists in industrial laboratories, job problems are less frequent and seem less severe than in academia.  Their problems with time often are solved or at least minimized by gaining administrative approval to hire more support staff.  Any problems with research money frequently are dealt with internally when admninistrators shift job priorities and budgets.  Problems with corruption are less prominent in industrial labs, unless professional researchers are asked to change research results or interpretations of data in order to facilitate business aspects of their employer.  Industries are more on the side of their employees than are universities, and clearly need to promote the performance of their science employees as an important part of their drive for business success; thus, there presently is only a limited need for industrial scientists to seek recourse by unionization. 

Some special situations in science could lead to unionization. 

Certain job situations for today’s professional scientists increasingly recall the historical tradition where groups of ordinary (non-science) workers formed unions to protect themselves from abusive employers.  I will briefly discuss here 3 solid examples of modern instances where efforts with unionization now are either progressing or being considered. 

Postdoctoral Research Fellows typically spend several years doing full-time research before they are able to become good candidates for employment in universities, industrial  R&D centers, or science-related positions (see:  “All About Postdocs, Part I.  What are Postdocs and What Do they Do?” ).  When the number of available new science job positions declines, as in recent years, some Postdocs stay in these positions for at least a decade; although they are pleased to be paid to do research work, they are not truly independent, have minimal job security and limited retirement benefits, and, do not have a career or status appropriate to all their long training and professional research publications.  Postdocs easily can become captive workers.  Hence, these  temporary employees increasingly feel that “The Science System” is abusive and is taking advantage of them.  In response to complaints from Postdocs at many sifferent locations, universities try to make improvements by establishing some administrative post to handle all matters concerning Postdocs.  Little ever changes, so the complaints continue; any good changes are countered by the ready availability of many new foreign Ph.D.s eagerly seeking to come here as Postdoctoral Fellows (see:  “Why Does the United States now have so Very Many Foreign Graduate Students in Science?  Part I ” ).  Recently, some local or regional groups of Postdocs are critically discussing their predicament, and are seeking to develop changes in their present job status; whether this spreading discord will result in unionization of Postdocs remains to be seen. 

University faculty are becoming unionized at some educational institutions, both here in the United States and in some foreign countries.  Several unions and related organizations now deal with educational activities and business matters, but these associations also include numerous non-science faculty.  University faculty usually are reluctant to join a union, but sooner or later come to see that there indeed is strength in numbers.  Faculty unions sometimes elicit good adjustments and improvements in such factors as salary levels, employment benefits, and, issuance of documentation about what is expected from faculty employees.  Union-derived positive changes generally affect all the faculty, rather than only members of the union.  The harsher and more one-sided modern universities become, the more will unionization of their faculty be encouraged. 

Tenure for science faculty is a specific job problem that can be found both at universities and some industrial R&D centers.  Promotion to tenured rank uses somewhat different criteria at each school, and each individual candidate is at least slightly questionable.  Although nationally a subatantial number of scientists is involved with tenure each year, this issue at any one institution concerns only some few individuals; such fragmentation means that unionization of scientists as a means to improve this problem is very difficult.  If anyone compares the situation for tenure decisions at universities having faculty unions versus those that do not have unionized faculty, then it is obvious that the rules and regulations for achieving tenured rank are much more openly stated and carefully followed by the former institutions.  Due to mistakes and abuses with the tenure decision, this complex issue is actively discussed and of ongoing interest to the professional faculty unions. Junior faculty scientists constitute a hidden national class of good potential candidates for modern unionization.  

Are there any alternatives to unions for scientists? 

In my opinion, unions presently only play a minor role for professional scientific researchers.  Since science workers in universities do have serious job problems, one must ask whether there are any other mechanisms available to advance the general job status of faculty scientists.  The answer to this question is “yes”!  Most professional scientists are members of at least one science society.  These national associations sponsor annual meetings (see: “All About ScienceMeetings” ), publish professional journals, organize educational endeavors, and promote the advancement of their discipline.  These organizations often have thousands of dues-paying members, and thus have notable similarities to large unions.  Some of the current issues for professional scientists described above seem very suitable to be addressed by the national science societies. 

Concluding discussion. 

At present, unions are not numerous amongst all the many professional research scientists.  Some of the major job-related issues faced by research scientists at universities are well-suited to be ameliorated by unionization; however, the scientists actively confronting these issues at any one institution are not numerous, and so do not constitute the large number of workers traditionally engaged by unions.  When confronted with seemingly hopeless, unfair, and downright stupid job conditions, scientists are not  being unprofessional when they turn to unions so as to resolve the several difficult job problems in their profession.  Science societies have many features that are strongly analogous to unions, and should be encouraged to start helping their member scientists to better deal with major job-related issues.  

 

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NEW KINDS OF RESEARCH GRANTS FOR SCIENCE, PART I: PILOT STUDIES!

 

It is Not so Easy to Decide Where to Send an Application for a New Science Research Grant!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

It’s Not so Easy to Decide Where to Submit a New Research Grant!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Almost all scientists agree that the modern research grant system has both good and bad effects upon the science enterprise.  Periodic efforts by the largest granting agencies of the federal government create additional support opportunities for research scientists, but unfortunately these only seem to provide small improvements.  Scientific research costs billions of dollars annually in the United States (U.S.) (see:  “Why is Science so very Expensive?  Why do Research Experiments Cost so Much?”); financial support comes from government agencies (via taxpayers) and from industrial companies.  Background materials about the multibillion-dollars in research support funds currently awarded by the largest agencies are readily available on the internet for the National Science Foundation (NSF) (see:  “About the National Science Foundation” ) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) (see:  “About National Institutes of Health” ).

Many university researchers wish that new directions and new support programs would be initiated so as to remove or decrease the negative aspects of the current research grant system.  This short series of essays puts forth proposals for some really new and different kinds of research grants, as an attempt to insert some new ideas for funding mechanisms.  The proposed initiatives will help invigorate the decayed status of experimental research studies in U.S. universities (see:  “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” ).  My proposals will function nicely within the present research grant system. 

What are Pilot Studies, and Why are they Important?

Pilot studies are short-term experimental research efforts seeking to find which subjects, approaches, and methods are best suited to produce good results for a possible new research investigation.  Ideally, these initial studies result in identification of which designs for experiments will work, what experimental subjects can be used effectively, which research questions or hypotheses can be answered or tested by the proposed experiments, and what types of results will be obtained.  Pilot studies produce preliminary results confirming that a planned approach actually will answer a research question. 

Only a limited time and effort usually can be expended on evaluating and devloping a potential new research project.  In modern universities, pilot studies now often are: (1) conducted as minor side efforts during the investigations funded by a research grant,  (2) assigned to a graduate student or a research technician, or, (3) done during a sabbatical leave.   Pilot studies are important because they show how raw theoretical ideas can be converted into practical reality (i.e., sometimes a very clever idea just will not work in the research laboratory). 

The current research grant system requires preliminary data for all applications, but unofficially discourages pilot studies.  The grant system seeks solid new knowledge based on known approaches and building on already accomplished research results; this goal is inherently different from the exploratory nature of pilot studies.  Although most pilot studies are more or less supported by current research grant award(s), there is not much room in funded research projects for really creative experimentation, trying out unconventional new ideas, or starting new work in some different area of science; pilot studies focus on exactly these aspects of research, and are much less restricted than ongoing regular studies.  Additionally, use of research grant funds to conduct pilot studies is extremely difficult for the increasing number of good scientists now receiving awards with only partial funding.   

The hidden value of pilot studies for science is that they often are individual expressions of creative and innovative ideas.  Once a research grant is awarded, most activities are set in place and scheduled, with little necessity to think any new thoughts.  Most scientists in universities stick to what they can get funded readily, and rarely switch projects or start work in other fields of science.  Pilot studies often include creative designs, new approaches, and very innovative ideas.  Hence, the most important role of pilot studies for science is that they stimulate new thoughts, new questions, and new experiments.  Thus, pilot studies represent initial inputs of new ideas into science. 

Support for pilot studies at present.  

Current mechanisms for obtaining the necessary funds to conduct pilot studies are too limited.  I have not found any general supportive  programs at the NSF or NIH that fund only pilot study research.  Actual lab work in pilot studies more frequently is a short subsidiary effort funded by an ongoing research grant; there is little push to conduct creative or unconventional studies with really new research questions and ideas.   Some science organizations do make awards for pilot studies, and some medical schools do have special programs internally supporting pilot studies for their faculty researchers.  

The only other general funding source for pilot studies appears to be crowdfunding.  This new type of public-supported and -donated funding usually features limited amounts of money and time, but that is exactly what is needed for pilot research.  Most applicants already have a well-equipped research lab.  However, the chief problem with crowdfunding is that the general public often cannot readily comprehend what is involved in pilot studies and how that is used by science; therefore, proposals by scientists to support new pilot studies cannot readily compete with proposals for conducting creative projects in the arts.  Accordingly, grant support for pilot studies is quite limited, and a new kind of support program for pilot studies now is needed!  

Details of the proposed new research grants for pilot studies.

I propose a new type of research grant, dedicated to enabling the conduct of more new pilot studies.  This new award program will support worthy pilot studies at universities for a duration of 1-4 months.   At least a 25-50% effort by the Principal Investigator (P.I.) is required.  No expenses for salary of the P.I. and no indirect costs will be supported.  Direct costs for supplies, lab personnel, and research travel (e.g., to conduct studies at an off-campus location) will be supported.  All awards are limited to a maximum total of $40,000.  Successful outcome to a pilot study supported by this new granting program is expected to lead to a new proposal for funding by a regular research grant mechanism. 

Who can apply?  Applications for pilot study grants can be submitted by any scientist or engineer with a doctoral degree, and having access to adequate laboratory space and instrumentation facilities.  Applicants holding a faculty status are preferred.  Graduate students and Postdocs cannot apply for these grants.  Any individual scientist can have only one pilot study award for any calendar year. 

Proposals:  Applications for new pilot studies can involve any area of modern science.  Proposals must fully describe the new experimental investigations to be conducted, examine all possible results, explain what research project could follow if the pilot studies are successful, and, give reasons how and why both this pilot study and the anticipated subsequent research work are important for science and society.  Available research facilities to be used must be described in detail.  All anticipated costs must be justified.  Pilot study grants are not supplements to currently awarded research grants; applications must make clear how the proposed pilot study relates to any and all current awards.   This new granting program has no renewals.  Awards can permit new pilot studies by science faculty currently without a research grant, or, by those wishing to begin research on a new and different subject or branch of acience.  Proposals with innovative and unconventional new approaches are welcomed. 

How will proposaals be evaluated?  Priority for funding will be evaluated by peer review on the primary basis of: (1) quality of the planned new experiments, (2) likelihood that completion of the proposed pilot study will result in submission of a new meritorious research grant application, and (3) potential contributions to the progress of science. 

How will science benefit from new grants for pilot studies?  The proposed new granting program will provide funds that: (1) increase the number of pilot studies being conducted, (2) enable preliminary studies to be made where simultaneous regular grant awards do not provide sufficient “extra funds” for pilot studies, and (3) provide opportunities for established university scientists to switch their research into new subjects or new areas of science.  This new kind of research grant will increase creative research ideas and investigations, enlarge the scope of innovative research activities at universities, and, encourage new ventures in scientific research by professional scientists and engineers. 

Discussion.

There still are too many barriers to making important new research discoveries and advances.  In my opinion, the biggest problem in modern laboratory science is not  insufficient support money, but that there are restrictions for developing new ideas, thinking new thoughts about research,  using new designs for experiments, and, devising unconventional approaches to solve difficult or controversial research questions.  The new grants for pilot studies will be instrumental in overcoming some current restrictions limiting the progress of scientific research.  If support is given to pilot studies that investigate controversies, use creative designs with unconventional approaches, and start or switch research work onto very new projects, then significant research advances and science progress will follow.  

By increasing the number of pilot studies, the number of really new scientific investigations will be fostered.  This new support mechanism provides a good answer to the increasingly frequent question from university scientists, “How can I test my new idea for research and get the required preliminary data when I do not now have a research grant?”  Former faculty grantees who have been hung up to dry or die will have a new opportunity to return to active research.  By fostering new developments, new ideas, and new activity in experimental research, the new pilot study grants will stimulate the improvement and progress of today’s science. 

 

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YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ABOUT THESE GOOD SCIENTISTS (PART II)!

You Will Never Hear About the Life of These Good Scientists!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

You Will Never Hear About the Life of These Good Scientists!     (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

In Part I, a fictional story about a tenured Associate Professor, Dr. Joe Smith, was presented to illustrate some of the job problems that can be encountered by science faculty members working in modern universities (see:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/12/24/you-will-never-hear-about-these-good-scientists-part-i/ ).  These situations do not occur at all universities and medical schools, but the possibility is always there.  Part II now describes the story of an active young member of the science faculty in a different department at the same large state university; her problematic situation is different, but occurs commonly and often has sad consequences.

Jill Annette Jones, Ph.D.

Jill A. Jones is a 26 year old new faculty member in the small Department of Neuroscience.  As an untenured Assistant Professor, she lectures in a large team-taught required course and also presents her own graduate school course every year; student critiques about her teaching activities are very favorable.  Her research investigates laboratory models for the membranes of nerve cells; she has received a research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support her experimental studies.  Jill Annette is very dedicated to her career as a professional research scientist and enjoys working on research experiments in her laboratory.  She has postponed thoughts about getting married and having children until after she becomes 30 years old.  The next steps in her career as a university scientist are to get re-appointed as an Assistant Professor, and to merit the renewal of her NSF research grant.  Overall, she is proud and satisfied with her university employment, and does not feel that she has been hindered at all by being female.  

One day, Jill Annette is invited to visit her very senior Chairman.  Following a few pleasantries, the following conversation takes place.

Chair:  “Jill, I want to discuss your faculty activities here.”

Jill:  “Okay.  What about them?”

Chair:  “You are publishing good research results, but you never have articles in the main Neuroscience journals.  Why is that?”

Jill:  “My research on neuronal membranes is a better fit for Biophysics journals.  What is the problem with that?

Chair:  “It is just that you appear to be functioning outside our special field, and are not on the same wavelength everybody else is on.”

Jill:  “Neuroscience is still innovating and developing its methodologies further.  The older professors in our Department should be glad they have a young faculty member here who is a modern type of Neuroscientist!  Many of them barely seem to know about the new approaches for research in Neuroscience!  Who are they to say where new aspects of Neuroscience should be published?”

Chair:  “Even if you are totally correct, you are making a strategic mistake!  You must realize that you and your work will be judged by the senior faculty for your upcoming re-appointment promotion.  You should be more realistic and play up to them, Jill Annette.”

Jill:  “I can accept being judged by them, but I do not play up to anybody!  That is not my style!”

Chair:  “You know what I mean.  You definitely should strengthen your identification with our Department.”

Jill:  “Please tell me how you, our leader, see my research and teaching activities.”

Chair:  “You are funded, actively publishing, and teaching in our large course. Those all are quite good.  But, your professional identity as a Neuroscientist seems questionable.”

Jill:  “Neuroscientists at other schools also publish in Biophysics journals.  I now have had 3 articles published in the #1 journal in that discipline.”

Chair:  “Biophysics is not Neuroscience!  Nobody in our Department has ever published in Biophysics journals.”

Jill:  “Every year I present an abstract with my latest research findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.  That very large Society accepts my research as Neuroscience, and the audience receives my oral presentations with enthusiastic interest.”

Chair:  “Yes, but …  I advise you to publish several articles in Neuroscience journals, in addition to those you send to Biophysics journals.  Please recognize that with this suggestion I am just trying to assist you for your career here.  You will stand a better chance of getting re-appointed if you can accept my advice.”

Jill at once went to talk candidly to some faculty colleagues in several other departments.  She thereby learned much more about what her Boss had just told her.  One senior Full Professor asked her why she didn’t try to transfer into the Biophysics Department.  A female tenured Associate Professor reminded Jill that the amount of money available in federal agencies to fund research grant awards had not increased in recent years despite the larger number of applications received every year; Jill was counseled to view getting her research grant renewed as being something necessary, but inherently uncertain.  Another science faculty member pointed out to her that giving a few lectures for a team-taught course was not exactly any major contribution to teaching.  Jill thus came to recognize that her status as a recent Assistant Professor was not so safe and on track as she had previously believed.  

My analysis of Dr. Jill Annette Jones

Although Jill is sincere and is generally doing a good job as a new young university scientist, she only has a limited understanding about how decisions for re-appointments, later promotions, and grant renewals are made.  This young and spirited Assistant Professor indeed is quite naive.  She makes several assumptions that often are not true: (1) everything is on the up and up, (2) research grants are awarded and renewed readily, (3) the hyper-competition for research grant awards will not affect her application for renewal, (4) she now is doing an outstanding job as a member of the science faculty, and (5) the opinions of old faculty do not really matter.  These mistakes undoubtedly will work against success in her career.  

In my opinion, Jill Annette definitely is in a weak position and needs to quickly learn to play hardball. Her experienced Chairman is giving her very good advice and instructions!  She clearly needs to strengthen her status and reputation in her department.  If she intends to stay in her present Department, she must keep her critical views about senior faculty colleagues to herself, and become more fully identified as a Neuroscientist.  She also must accept that promotions are not usually given to those who are not considered to be essential and fully committed to being part of the group.  If she cannot make these changes, she will be cast off by her department.

To remedy her weak spots, Jill Annette needs to make a determined effort to:  (1) apply and acquire a second external research grant award, (2) start saying “hello” to those departmental faculty she does not usually converse with, (3) publish a few articles in a Neuroscience journal, in addition to those appearing in Biophysics journals, (4) become even more involved with the Society for Neuroscience (e.g., volunteer to serve on one of their committees), and, (5) suggest and accept taking some more substantial role in the major departmental course.  All of these will help correct her present weak positioning. 

Concluding Remarks for Part II

Some young members of modern universities, just like Jill Annette,  are naive about important details of their job situation.  There is not enough instruction given in graduate schools about business and political aspects of being a university scientist.  Conversing with fellow faculty who have recently passed upwards on the career ladder usually reveals important details about unrecognized problems soon to appear.  All new faculty must become more aware about what can happen to them in modern academia.  

The fictional stories in Parts I and II are based on real events and real academic faculty I have known.  Sordid attacks by Chairs, Deans, and other Administrators, and traps unseen by new young faculty, are very real.  It is completely essential that young research scientists in universities must become much more knowledgeable about these difficult problems, and learn how to avoid or deal with them effectively. 

Some university science departments are headed by a very good, fair, and supportive leader, and provide excellent working environments for their faculty.  The choice of working environment is a most important determinant of the career success and satisfaction for dedicated research scientists.  In my personal opinion, the condition of the working environment is much more important than all other parameters (i.e., geographic location, salary level, availability of tenure slots, laboratory space, amount of start-up funding, size of department, reputation, number of grad students, etc.).

General conclusions for Parts I and II

When confronting any academic official, nothing they say should ever be taken as final.   Each of these officials is strongly obliged to obey their own superior(s), meaning that their announced position or decree can change drastically or even reverse on a moment’s notice.  As the saying goes, there is no honor amongst either thieves or deans. 

The situations presented in Parts I and II are better avoided rather than confronted (i.e., select a better working environment).  Fighting these situations directly always is very risky and costs a lot of time, cash, and emotional energy.  It is nothing less than absurd for any faculty scientist to think that either being tenured or having right upon your side, will protect you and assure your being victorious. 

At present, the only certain method for preventing this problem, winning any such dispute, and being able to readily find a good new employer is to acquire 2 or more simultaneous research grant awards.  Yes, money is absolutely everything in today’s academia (see:  http://dr-monsrs.net/2014/01/02/why-has-money-become-everything-in-scientific-research/ )!

 

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WHY IS “GRANTSPERSONSHIP” A FALSE IDOL FOR RESEARCH SCIENTISTS, AND WHY IS IT BAD FOR SCIENCE?

 

Grantsperonship in 2014!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Grantspersonship in 2014!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

            With research grants now being so all-important for university science faculty conducting experimental research, skills and good tactics with acquiring these awards have become especially valued.  For getting research grant awards, there can be no question that some doctoral scientists are very much more successful than many others.  The reasons why and how some are more successful are hard to pin down, but it is commonly said that they have more or better understanding about exactly how the research grant system works.  Grantspersonship, formerly referred to as grantsmanship or grantswomanship, is the use of applied psychology, business skills, cleverness, manipulations, sophistry, unconventional approaches, and whatever-it-takes to win a research grant award.  Tactics for acquiring research grant awards are not explicitly taught during the graduate school education of most professional scientists; instead, they are learned and incorporated by the emulation of those having more successful results in dealing with the current research grant system. 

            I have already introduced the hyper-competition by university scientists for research grants (see earlier article in the Scientists category on “Why Would Any Scientist Ever Cheat?”).  In the present condition, grants are everything, everyone is competing with everyone else, and failure to get a new grant or a renewal easily can be the kiss-of-death for university scientists.  Far too many modern faculty scientists have had personal experience with having their research grant applications being turned down or receiving evaluation scores such that they only will receive awards for partial funding.  Many grant-supported university scientists now are trying hard to get a second research grant, in order to (1) obtain additional laboratory space, (2) undertake an additional research project, (3) receive some security in case their first research project does not receive a renewal award, and (4) increase their status and salary.  Of course, these efforts also greatly increase the hyper-competition.  The time and emotional effort needed for this infernal hyper-competition is enormous and detracts from the ability of any scientist to personally conduct research experiments in their lab (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”).  Accordingly, very many university faculty scientists indeed would love to obtain more success by increasing their level of grantspersonship. 

            Using grantspersonship to become more successful seems justified to many scientists at modern universities, since obtaining research grant awards is so very important for their career.  Increasing one’s grantspersonship indeed can produce more funding success, but also readily results in several bad effects.  At its worst, some scientists engage in corrupt and unethical practices (see my recent article in the Big Problems category on “Why is it so Very Hard to Eliminate Fraud and Corruption in Scientists?”).  Even if remaining completely honest, researchers using grantspersonship become sidetracked from their aims in being a scientist. 

             Applications for research grants should be judged on the basis of objective evaluations for merit (i.e., having the best approach to answer an important research question and/or more effectively investigate a needed topic), capabilities of the scientist (i.e., adequate background and previous experience, a record of producing important  publications, availability of the necessary facilities and required policies, etc.), compatibility with program objectives of the granting agency, good performance with previous awards, etc.  The use of grantspersonship subverts these traditional criteria, and substitutes inappropriate, irrelevant, and subjective considerations into the evaluation of applications for funding (e.g., association with a given institution, ethnicity, personal friendships, personal interactions with agency officials, professional relationships, professional status, publications in a certain journal, etc.).  All of this subversion of objective evaluations is bad for science. 

 What makes Grantspersonship Wrong?  How does Grantspersonship have Negative Effects on Science? 

            Although grantspersonship appears to be universally accepted today, few have ever examined what are its effects upon scientific research.  The concept of grantspersonship commonly is seen as the application of business skills to science; it deals with obtaining money, and has only an indirect connection to the production of good research.  There is no obvious reason to think that either most very acclaimed great research scientists could simultaneously also be outstandingly adept businesspersons, or, that the presidents of giant multinational corporations could also win a Nobel Prize for their lab research studies.  Business is fundamentally different from scientific research!  The business world previously has given more emphasis than does science to commercialism, contracts, monetary rewards, personal deals, semi-legal actions and outright deception, trading of favors, etc.; these characteristics are not traditionally prominent in the world of science.  Both business and science are useful and needed by society, but they are not the same and they are not interchangeable! 

            Most university scientists see grantspersonship as a means to the end of getting a research grant award.  Anything that will improve the chance for success is viewed as being good and acceptable.  If that really is true, then it logically follows that a new breed of non-scientist grant writers will arise and have many customers; in fact, there already are some of these new commercial offerings already.  Such “editorial grant advisors” officially will be paid to improve or rework any application so as to be more fundable; some also will be able to write an entire research grant application using only minimal input from the scientist submitting the application.  Editorial grant advisors undoubtedly will have a commercial contract with their numerous customers, and might even guarantee at least a certain priority ranking.  Of course, it will be highly unlikely that expert reviewers for the granting agencies can recognize this dual authorship when that is not stated on the application form; some applicants will maintain that they alone are the true author since they must supervise and approve of anything composed by the advisors.  Many scientists, including myself, will consider such dual authorship to be unethical; on the other hand, the concept of grantspersonship will fully accept this subterfuge. 

            What makes grantspersonship wrong?  Grantspersonship is wrong because it has bad effects on science, and on the objective evaluation of research grant applications.  In particular, the concept of grantspersonship: (1) implies that research capabilities mainly relate to construction of a grant application; (2) means that good business skills are somehow equivalent to scientific expertise, even though there is no obvious evidence for that view; this falsity is evidenced by the fact that some pre-eminent Nobel Laureate scientists have had enormous difficulties with business aspects in the modern research grant system (see my earlier article in the Scientists category on “What’s the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists Today?”); (3) confuses and subverts the objective evaluation of grant applications, because it is unknown what comes from the applicant and what comes from some extraneous co-author;  (4) sidetracks the essential goal of science (i.e., to find or critically study the truth) and substitutes that with the target of getting research grant funds; in other words, the real goal becomes to get the money, rather than to uncover new knowledge; and, (5) counters integrity of scientific research by making the goal be obtaining a grant award, rather than discovering important new knowledge through experimental investigations. 

Concluding Remarks

            From all the foregoing, I conclude that grantspersonship is a false idol for modern scientists doing research, andhas bad effects upon science.  The true aim of scientific research is not the acquisition of money! 

            The only way I can see to remove this anti-science mess is (1) to get the granting agencies to adopt much more rigorous standards for objectivity in reviewing research grant applications, and (2) to get the universities to either stop or greatly diminish the hyper-competition for research grant awards, since that underlies the current flourishing of grantspersonship.  Regretfully, both of these needed changes seem very unlikely to be instituted. 

            Whenever I get depressed at realizing that there now is an overwhelming desire for more grantspersonship amongst university scientists, I always begin laughing because I start wondering which will be the very first university to hire some modern Jesse James (i.e., an outlaw and notorious USA bank robber from the second half of the 1800’s) as the newest member of their science faculty, since he would bring much more money into the university than any grant-supported scientist could do!

 

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WHY IS THE DAILY LIFE OF MODERN UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS SO VERY HECTIC?

 

Daily Life for University Scientists is Very Hectic
Daily Life for University Scientists is Very Hectic (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

             Almost all scientists working on research as faculty members in academia will admit that their professional life is completely full of activities and that they often are quite frustrated trying to get everything done in time for the very numerous deadlines.  Many also will agree that the crowded schedule of all their daily work creates a hectic life that is amazingly different from what had been anticipated back when they were graduate students or postdocs; this even includes those scientists who are very successful with both obtaining research grants and producing many publications. 

 

Why do so many university scientists feel this way?  There are 5  chief causes of this self-judgment: (1) the main job of scientists working as faculty in universities now is to acquire more profits for their employer, rather than to discover more new knowledge via experimental studies (see my earlier post on “What is the New Main Job of Faculty Scientists?” in the Scientists category); (2) their chief laboratory activity often is acting as a research manager sitting at a desk, rather than actually performing any experiments at the lab bench; (3) their busy life is a never-ending sequence of job deadlines (see my recent post on “The Life of Modern Scientists is an Endless Series of Deadlines” in the Scientists category) involving grant applications, grant renewals, grant reports and forms, course lectures, course laboratories, course review sessions, course examinations, course staff meetings, conferences with students, academic meetings, annual meeting of science societies, submissions of new manuscripts, submission of revised manuscripts, completing invited reviews of manuscripts submitted by other scientists, evaluations of graduate students, evaluations of laboratory staff, professional correspondence, making travel arrangements, etc.,  etc.); (4) their intended schedule of work often can require more than 24 hours each day (see my earlier post on “What do University Scientists Actually do in their Daily Work?” in the Scientists category); and, (5) it becomes harder each year in a science career to either do research on the subjects and questions of their own choice, venture into some new interdisciplinary research effort, or be able to relax despite the enormous pressures generated by the research grant system (i.e., applications for research grant renewal never are guaranteed to be successful, and laboratory assignments will change or disappear if a proposal for renewal is denied funding).  These many job worries are both understandable and unavoidable; however, they create dismay and result in increasing dissatisfaction for many faculty who originally were very enthusiastic at becoming a university scientist. 

 

Why do so many academic scientists feel trapped inside what must be called a rat race?  Typically, these unexpected conditions arise slowly as their career progresses; the end point often is not recognized until the perverse situation already is well-established.  Once one perceives how deep this hectic quagmire can become, the only obvious solutions are either to put up with everything in return for the several good features of modern academic life, or to seek to move into a better job situation with a new employer or even a new career.  Most university scientists facing this dilemma are at least some 40 years of age; for many, their future retirement already can be foreseen.  Thus, moving to a new job site is not so easily accomplished, and is known to often result in the loss of 6-12 months of research productivity.  Many faculty scientists feel overwhelmed in this situation, and are hesitant to try to do anything about it.  A good number of faculty scientists who reach this midcareer realization start spending much more of their daily job time with teaching, writing books, and administrative work; they also work more frequently at home, rather than working in their research lab or office on campus. 

 

For all the employing universities, there are few rewards that they could receive by trying to resolve the problems of their faculty scientists listed above.   For these academic institutions, the recognized hectic life of their faculty research scientists translates into more profits and greater employee productivity.  Thus, most modern universities are fully pleased and very satisfied with exactly the same job problems and situations that perturb their science faculty!  This means that the university system with faculty scientists is very likely to continue just as it is today for a long time.

 

In principle, improved  education could help professional scientists to handle these job problems more successfully.  In graduate school education, new more realistic courses could be offered concerning what to do when faced with the many large practical problems of prioritizing and handling deadlines, allocating time commitments, dealing with the perverse practices of the federal research grant system, etc. (see my recent post on “Education of University Scientists: What is Wrong Today?” in the Education category).  At present, these matters usually are not covered either by any courses, or by formal instructions; instead, counsel is sought on an individual basis by informal discussions in the hallway with more experienced members of the science faculty.

 

Another part of the reason why there are so few current efforts to make the needed changes in modern universities is that some particularly successful faculty scientists do rise to the top despite these difficult job problems, and their employer then uses them as models of what all the other university scientists should be doing.  This common practice has the obvious major flaw that the number of such eminently successful faculty scientists in any university undoubtedly is enormously less than the number of those other faculty who are frustrated and dissatisfied with their hectic professional life.  In addition, I suspect that even extra-successful faculty scientists also are dismayed at just how hectic their daily life is. 

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WHAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS REALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK ?

FINAL.Cartoon What is Research#2

HAT DO UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS ACTUALLY DO IN THEIR DAILY WORK 

          Almost nobody in the general public has ever met and talked with a real living scientist.  Hence, beyond the generalizations that scientists “do research” and “teach about science”,  most people have no idea at all about what scientists work on during their daily job activities.  To fill this gap, the typical daily work of scientists employed as faculty in universities is described here.

 

          To understand science and research, one must also know about scientists.  For the first half of their faculty career, university scientists conduct experimental studies on one or several research projects which are supported by the award of external research grants.  This involves their own hands-on work in a research laboratory, supervision of laboratory staff (undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, research technicians, visiting research workers, etc.), analysis of experimental data, and the publication of research reports presenting the results and conclusions from their investigations.  Appropriate time also must be given to ordering, checking on functionality of research equipment, design and planning of future experiments, problem solving with laboratory co-workers, dealing with questions arising as the experimental results are being collected, writing (research reports, new grant applications, other documents, and, books), etc.  Many faculty scientists additionally teach in one or two courses for undergraduate or graduate students.  As faculty, they also pursue various other academic activities, such as giving and attending research seminars, working with graduate training programs, attending various meetings of institutional committees and departments, attendance in graduation and other institutional ceremonies, participation and attendance at one or more annual science meetings, etc.   And finally, most of these scientists have a spouse and children, and so also need to spend some time working with their family, as well as with personal activities. 

 

          At sometime during the second half of their career, many university research scientists commonly decrease the time spent with their laboratory work, and begin to do more teaching, more writing of books, and/or more administrative work (e.g., as a divisional chief or focus director, vice-chair or chair of a department, committee head, liaison official, university representative to some venture, assistant dean, etc.).  Some also begin working off-campus much more than was previously done, by accepting responsibility for serving on various official external bodies (e.g., review boards, councils, and professional science societies, regional research facilities, publishing houses, accreditation boards, etc.).  In principle, their activities in teaching, administration, and public service all utilize the advanced experience of these senior individuals to directly and indirectly benefit other people. 

 

          The daily toil of scientists working in a university varies depending upon the different individuals, institutions, and local conditions.  Nevertheless, on a typical workday for a youngish faculty scientist, many or all of the following activities take place:

1.   thinking, questioning, and planning;

2.   reviewing the schedule for activities on that day and planned for that week;

3.   confer with laboratory staff about their new results, new problems, and current plans for progress;

4.   review research data: analysis, plotting and processing for presentation, statistics, etc.;

5.   hands-on research experiments at the laboratory bench;

6.   lectures, examinations, meetings, etc., for courses taught;

7.   administrative tasks, including filling in required forms and reports, interactions with the

safety office and the financial office, attendance at committee meetings, etc.;

8.   research grants: preparation of annual reports and forms, advance preparations for next

renewal application, review of progress and pilot studies, etc.;

9.   work on journal or review publications, abstracts for meetings, internal documents, etc.;

10.  library work, reading activities, studying a few selected recent publications in detail, gathering

            references and citations for manuscripts; and, 

11. miscellaneous: commuting, lunch, telephoning, e-mail, other individual activities, etc. 

 

          It should be very obvious that this daily work schedule requires a whole big bunch of time!  For the many other doctoral scientists doing research and development in commercial settings, their daily schedule is made slightly more reasonable because they usually share some work duties with co-workers, and are effectively assisted by a dedicated administrative, secretarial, and technical staff.  Those researchers working as faculty scientists in universities and hospitals often find that they have severe problems with time management, and necessarily must decrease the amount of time allotted to normal extraneous activities.

          The very busy daily schedule of university faculty scientists is compensated by their receiving a decent salary, working inside a scholarly home with other doctoral faculty and professional researchers, having access to good students, and utilizing the resources provided by an on-campus well-equipped science library.  In addition, they hopefully will achieve the thrill of being the first to acquire some much-desired research discovery, and, all are able to have the fun of doing research within “my own laboratory”. 

 

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